Posted by: gschloesser | July 30, 2011

Crazy Bluff

Design by:  Thierry Denoual
Published by:  Blue Orange
2 – 8 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

I thoroughly enjoyed Gobblet, a challenging abstract game from Blue Orange Games.  The publisher was eager to have me play and review another of their releases, Crazy Bluff.  Sadly, after several playings, I found Crazy Bluff almost completely devoid of any strategy, and as the name implies, virtually solely dependent upon the element of bluff.  That usually translates into “avoidance” for me. 

There is no denying that the game is professionally produced.  All of the components are a quality of which any company would be proud.  The 88-card deck consists primarily of “bluff” cards in four suits, with a selection of bluff and joker cards.  As in many card games, the object is to be the first player to deplete his hand of cards. 

Each player is dealt 7 cards, and the top card from the remaining deck is revealed.  Players take turns playing cards FACE-DOWN to the center card, or drawing a card.  If they opt to play a card, they must announce its identity, which should match the last card played in either color or number.  So, if the previous card played was the “7 clubs”, then a player could play a card and announce it to be the “7 spades, hearts or diamonds”, or ANY club.  It is important to note that there are two of each card in the deck, so card-counting is more difficult. 

Now, this is important:  a player does NOT have to tell the truth when announcing the identity of a card.  He can play ANY card and lie — er, bluff – about its identity.  In fact, you generally must do this if you hope to deplete your hand of cards.   The 16 bluff cards have no value, and thus a player MUST bluff when playing these cards.  The jokers, on the other hand, can be ANY card, so they are easy to play. 

Bluffing is OK, unless, of course, you are caught.  If an opponent suspects that you are bluffing, he can grab one of the four wooden “bluff busters” (large wood blocks with suction cups affixed to the bottom) and slam it onto the just-played card.  The card is then revealed to all players.  If the challenged card was actually correct and NOT a bluff, the challenger must draw two cards as a penalty.  If, however, the card was, indeed, a bluff, the player must take two cards from the challenger’s hand, and it becomes the challenger’s turn.  This can have the unpalatable effect of skipping the turns of several intervening players.  It has been my experience that players miss turns so often that it becomes quite frustrating.  Excessive frustration in a game is NOT a good thing.

As in UNO, a player must announce that his hand is down to one final card.  Failure to do so can result in being forced to draw two cards … provided an opponent notices the oversight.  The first player to deplete his hand of cards wins the round, and scores are tallied for all players based on the cards remaining in their hands.  Scoring is not a good thing, so it important to divest oneself of higher valued cards, as well as bluff cards and jokers.

There is nothing to go on here.  The player may be bluffing, or not.  The only way to know for sure is if you happen to possess two of the exact same card an opponent names – and that is not very likely at all.  So, the decision to challenge an opponent is nothing more than a guess.  That is quite, well, unsatisfying. 

I have played the game in various environment, including with hard-core gamers and with families.  The game just did not go over well in any setting.  While there is some initial tension in wondering if someone will call your bluff, this vanishes quickly as you realize you really don’t have much control over the matter.  Bluffing is necessary, and since there is no evidence on which to base one’s assessment of a situation, it is nothing more than guesswork.  For me, that simply is not fun.

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